Tuesday, September 11, 2007


The DC House Vote, redux

Michael Steele and J.C. Watts have an Op-Ed in today’s Washington Times that calls for giving DC full House of Representatives Voting Rights – and without having to go through the messy process of a Constitutional Amendment. I like the two gentlemen…but they couldn’t be more wrong.

One particular passage is especially deserving of critique:

“The Framers didn't intend to create a city where American citizens were completely unrepresented. But this is the situation we have.”

This is so obviously wrong because, well, the Framers never bothered giving DC citizenry a House vote. What else could have been their intention?

A few thoughts.

The framers probably conceived of a federal district so small that to have called it a "city" might have been a boast. Their immediate successors chose an area noteworthy for little except its oppressive heat in the summer, as recognized by the British government that paid jungle-level hazardous duty pay for those willing to live in its fetid torpor.

For much of its history, the District was overwhelmingly agricultural; the "counties" of the old District include most of DC outside the Mall and Georgetown, and were ag land of similar character to that of the Maryland tobacco land from which it was demarcated.

Did the Framers envision a multiplicity of government departments, a federal income tax, a metropolitan area of 5 million? No, no and no. They envisioned a defanged, drownable-in-the-washtub government fit for a people allergic to imperialist ambitions. A federal income tax was arguably illegal when imposed during the Civil War, but would have been regarded as obscene by most signers of the Constitution (and more than one signer of a 1040 this day....) As for a metro area of 5 million, the entire republic contained fewer than 4 million people in 1790, and barely 5 million a decade later.

I think that there is a reading of their remarks yield them correct: they did not imagine a CITY disenfranchised, but a tiny town of little population significance.
I think that the Framers probably never envisioned a District where people would actually live on a permanent basis. It is not likely that anyone would have been disenfranchised in their minds, because the "inhabitants" of the federal district wold have other residences in their home States, and come to the Capital only for the sessions of Congress, dispersing afterwards. It was, after all, a mostly agricultural society, and the "industry" of paperwork that now is DC's primary employer did not exist.
I'm sorry Gentlemen but overcoming what the Framers supposdley never envisioned is a Living Constitution rationale. There are two ways allowed for the District to get a voting rep: Make it a State or pass a Constitutional Amendment. Why not go one of those routes?
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